It was almost deja vu Tuesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The Aggies raced out to a big lead and never looked back, but did not win by 55 points like on Friday night against Weber State. However, the No. 17 Utah State men’s basketball team left little doubt in the outcome against Denver. The Aggies never trailed in a 97-56 victory in front of 6,504 fans.
“It was another great crowd, another great showing by our student body and the HURD and all of our fans in Cache Valley,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “That was exciting to see. Great energy in the Spectrum, again. I thought the start was big tonight. That was a big key for us.”
The game was barely two minutes old and the Pioneers (1-2) were already calling a timeout. It got worse for the visitors.
“I thought we came out really strong,” said Aggie guard Diogo Brito, who had 10 points off the bench. “That’s all we talked about before the game, come out strong and punch them in the mouth right away.”
It was pretty much a knockout blow by the Aggies (3-0) to start the game.
We did a great job throughout the first 15 minutes of the first half,” Brito said. “In the second half, we knew we had to come out the exact same way. I thought we did a great job overall, especially defensively. We just have to carry that on into the next games.”
USU guard Brock Miller hit 3-pointers early in each half and went on to have a career night with 27 points. He was 7 of 15 from long range.
“We played together as a team,” Miller said. “We had 23 assists as a team. I think that’s big time. Any time you get over 20 assists as a team, that’s big. Credit to our guys moving the ball and sharing and playing for each other. Really glad we got the win.”
All 11 Aggies that dressed for the game played and each of them scored. Ten different USU players grabbed a rebound and nine had at least one assist in the second straight blowout win.
“I thought there were a lot of really good performances,” Smith said. “Certainly, Brock Miller has 27 points and got going early on. Then Sam (Merrill) did what Sam does. He has 14 points on six shot attempts. … Abel Porter had a great floor game with five assists. Then Fonz (Alphonso Anderson) having 15 points again, and Diogo is just like a Swiss army knife. There are a lot of good things from tonight.”
The Pioneers came to Logan having won the last three meetings against the Aggies. Granted, the two schools hadn’t played each other since 2013, but still had won in the Spectrum. That streak obviously came to a crashing end Tuesday night.
“We started a little slow for my liking,” Denver head coach Rodney Billups said. “They (Aggies) were prepared, they were ready. They shot the ball at an extremely high clip. It was kind of a shock to our team. We knew they were going to be good in their building. … We knew this was an uphill battle, but I thought going into the game we were prepared and ready to go. The way they shot the ball was really impressive.”
Two Denver players reached double figures in scoring in Ade Murkey (14) and David Nzekwesi (12). USU owned the boards, 50-25, and had 17 on the offensive end it turned into 16 points. Justin Bean matched his career-high with a game-best 15 boards for USU.
The Aggies made 14 3-pointers as a team, which ties for the second most in a game in school history. The record is 20, set in 2006.
“We were making some threes tonight, made some really good reads off of the screen and roll that led to some really standstill, wide-open shots.”
Miller got the scoring started with a 3-pointer off a pass from Porter. After a three-point play by the Pioneers, Miller ignited a 7-0 run with a jumper. A Merrill trey and a layup by Porter gave the hosts a 10-3 lead as Denver called its first of three timeouts in the opening half.
“I saw myself get open more, got open looks,” Miller said. “That’s what I’m here today is take open looks when I get them. Credit to my teammates for finding me in transition. We just did a great job moving the ball.”
Brito hit a couple of shots from beyond the arc and two free throws as the Aggies reeled off 10 unanswered points to build a 20-5 lead five-and-a-half minutes into the contest.
Merrill began the next run with a trey as USU scored 11 straight points. Anderson capped it with a 3-pointer, giving the Aggies a 31-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half.
Denver was able to pick up its scoring pace a bit, but USU was relentless. A steal and dunk by Brito gave the Aggies their largest lead of the first 20 minutes, 51-20, at the 3:17 mark. USU took a 53- 27 lead into the break.
The Aggies began the second half with a 7-0 surge to leave no doubt about the outcome. Bean made a layup to give the hosts a 60-27 with 16:07 to play.
Miller gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 88-38, on another 3-pointer. The trey came with 5:17 to play and off a pass from Anderson.
Aggie big man Neemias Queta did the full warm ups with the team Tuesday night as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury, but did not dress for the game. … USU improved to 59-18 all-time as an AP ranked team. … USU improved to 29-2 under Smith when leading at halftime. … For just the fourth time in school history, the Aggies have posted back-to-back wins of at least 40 points with the last time occurring during the 1944-45 season. … Merrill scored in double figures for the 80th time in his career and is now tied with Eric Franson for seventh most double digit scoring games. It is also the 26th straight game the senior guard has scored in double figures, dating back to last season. With five assists Tuesday, Merrill also moved past Tyler Newbold (364) and Jay Goodman (364) and into sixth on the career assists list with 366. … Alphonso Anderson had four steals, while Kuba Karwowski blocked two shots … The Aggies lead the all-time series with the Pioneers, 55-37 in the fifth-most played series for USU.
Former USU All-American Wayne Estes surpassed 2,000 career points against Denver on Feb. 8, 1965. He scored 48 points that night in a 91-62 Aggie victory. It was the second-most points in a game by a USU player, trailing on his record of 52.
It would be his final game ever.
Estes and some friends stopped at the scene of a car accident after the game to help. While crossing the street, Estes brushed against a downed power line and was fatally electrocuted.
The guard with the hot shooting hand gets the nod. Brock Miller scored a career-high 27 points on 10 of 19 shooting from the floor, which included 7 of 15 from 3-point land. The sophomore also grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in 28 minutes of action. Miller’s previous high was 26 points against Mississippi Valley State last season.
AGGIE DUNK COUNT
In the first half, Alphonso Anderson got his first slam of the season off a pass from Abel Porter. Shortly after the first dunk, Trevin Dorius rammed down a Miller pass. Diogo Brito also recorded his first dunk of 2019-20 campaign in the first half, stealing the ball and going coast-to-coast for the jam.
Sean Bairstow joined the dunk gang with a breakaway slam in the second half after a Denver turnover.
Season count: Karwowski 2, Bean 2, Dorius 2 Anderson 1, Brito 1, Bairstow 1.
The Aggies are more than half way through their five-game homestand to open the season. Up next for USU is a date with North Carolina A&T (1-2) from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference on Friday night at 7. The Aggies from the east lost at Western Carolina on Tuesday, 90-64.